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Becoming ESPN

Becoming ESPN
“If ESPN were to be started from scratch today, it would probably not look much like the ESPN everybody knows.”


If you know sports, you know ESPN. Be it about the Super Bowl or an Australian Open, people from all walks of life visit ESPN or tune into its TV channel to check the sports events. 

For readers, ESPN is a hub to provide them with sports news and updates about the favorite players. For us, ESPN is an interesting story with tons of takeaways. We know it isn’t just fandom that makes ESPN initiatives a great success — the publisher does it right every time. 

But it didn’t start that way. ESPN had its good days and its bad days. It had a couple of flops and lessons to become the #1 sports website it is today. In this becoming piece, we have outlined how ESPN’s marketing, advertising, and strategies helped the media business to grow. 

Let’s see how they started. 

How it all started?

In the late 90s, Media and entertainment companies were bewildered as the audiences were gradually shifting from print to the Internet to stay updated and consume content. Realizing the trends, ESPN, a leading TV channel in the sports industry, announced the launch of ESPN website (as ESPN SportsZone) to shape the way media covered sports. ESPN TV channel had Subscribers ~25 million (Src) and 80 employees (Src). Impressively, ESPN website attracted 140,000 daily website visitors (Src). 

ESPN Traffic 1996

Where they are today?

In the past few decades, ESPN had gained ground and transformed the TV’s scripted shows to interactive video programming on the web. The ESPN website receives 85.75% of the traffic from the United States, and nearly 76% of traffic is organic. Besides, the publisher has several million subscribers over connected TVs and OTT devices. According to SimilarWeb, ESPN website has 343.84 million monthly unique users and its operating earnings was at $3 billion in 2019 (Src). 

ESPN Revenue 2019

Today, ESPN is the world’s leading provider of sports entertainment and has the most diversified portfolio of digital sports assets among its peers. The publisher has television networks, websites, blogs, radio channels, restaurants (yup), and so on.

Becoming ESPN

From Cable Network To Digital Pioneer

1995 – 2005

Website Launch

Disney, the parent company of ESPN, announced the presence of Sports on the web. The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network was now available at ESPNET.Sportszone.com. However, the domain name was later renamed as ESPN.go.com in 1998 (Src), and eventually ESPN.com in 2016 (Src). 

When Disney launched the ESPN website, it may seem to have an established audience. However, the challenge of building an audience on the Internet stands true. Because not all the TV viewers are going to convert to online readers. Besides, the competition amongst sports publishers was on the surge. Yahoo! launched its own dedicated space for sports, and so did Fox Sports in the same year.

However, media influence in the late 90s wasn’t restricted to cable TV channels. Radio programming was also contributing to increased interest in sports as hundreds of radio stations across the country adopted sports programming around-the-clock. 

So, to score points against the competitors and increase brand awareness, the publisher purchased the WMVP-AM radio network in Chicago and changed the name to ESPN Radio 1000.

Automatad Team

At Automatad, we help publishers to monetize better without hampering the user experience. Our products are live across hundreds of publishers, earning them incremental ad revenue with every passing second. You can request a free audit to get an estimated revenue uplift today.

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